Do one thing every day that scares you.
Okay, it’s Day #20: Take Risks. Apparently, I’ve lost track. I apologize for that. For today’s post, I’m going to go out on a limb and let Brad Weston say a few words on this subject. Enjoy! Back at ya tomorrow.
Taking Creative Risks in Our Culture
Once upon a time (let’s say, 31,652 years ago) there was a small tribe of early humans. In this tribe was a man (we’ll call him Fred) who was very hungry, as was everyone else. The river that they used to fish had dried up. The ice age was coming, so many of the local plants had begun to die off and were replaced by new flora, not indigenous to the area. Oh, and I should mention that Fred was a little weird.
You see, whenever the tribe would get together for making music and dancing, his contribution to the event would be unpredictable. Like, one night when the usual music makers had their hollowed out logs for pounding out intricate rhythms and their shakers, which were little animal hide bags filled with seeds to back fill the sound. The rest of the sound was being created by the voices of the tribe. So, this gig was going along smashingly, everyone was involved in one way or another and they were all working together to make the sound happen, when along comes Fred with a bone in his mouth that he had carved holes into. He was blowing into it and a note came out that was higher than all the other sounds that the tribe was making. Each note he made would hang there, high in the air, for all to see. He made a melody, like a voice only higher than any voice could reach. He invented the flute solo.
Then there was this other time, when there was a party going strong, and the purpose of this little shindig was to talk about how many animals would be killed in the hunt the next day. All of the proudest hunters of the group were claiming that they would catch many animals and make a huge feast the next night. They needed this hunt badly because game was fewer and farther between these days, on account of the coming ice age, and all.
These men were each trying to out brag each other about there own braveness, when all of a sudden, out of the dark, a strange deer sprang right up to the fire With it’s head lowered, it brazenly charged right up to the braggarts who, not surprisingly, scattered. Wouldn’t you know it, but it was only Fred with an animal hide draped over him. He began to do a hilarious rendition of a Buck’s mating dance, with a lot of head lowering and hoof stamping. Just as he was getting to the best part, the consummation of the buck’s love against the chief’s leg, one of the hunters charged in and pretended to kill the buck, badly bruising Fred’s ribs in the process.
That would have been the end of it, too, if the hunt had not gone so badly the next day. None of the hunters had brought back any game at all. That is when Fred got the idea to wear his hide and sneak up on the heard. He tried it on the following day and it worked. He was able to trick the animals into thinking that he was one of them, so that he could get close enough to fell a dear with his spear. He got credit for the feast that time, but by the next hunt, all of the hunters were donning pelts.
So you can see, risk taking did two things for Fred. It made him stand apart from the rest of the group he was with. Not always a good thing as his bruised ribs would attest. The other thing it did for him, was help his tribe out. It helped the group to find new ways to do things, and when food was scarce, creative thinking was useful.
I wish that our story could end there, but alas, it takes another turn. You see, some time later, when nearly all the game was gone from the area, the people of Fred’s tribe were getting very hungry indeed. They had eaten almost all of the things that they could think of to eat. Fred decided he would start trying new things. On the good side, he learned that if you dig up the roots of a young tree, you can get a little fiber in your diet. He then got a little more adventurous and sampled a red mushroom with little white dots all over it. He went mad, invented cave painting, and died a horrible convulsive death.
The moral to the story: Risk is both good and bad.
Society needs both kind of people in order to be functional. When the environment changes, someone needs to be just ahead in some direction holding up the lantern for others to follow. But, for the most part, it is risk aversion that keeps society together and keeps the tribe alive. This is why, in our species, real risk takers are rare. Sure there are many benefits to taking risks, but they are still called risks. And now, maybe more than ever, standing out is not always advantageous to be well regarded in your group.
So, what does all of this mean to an artist? Taking risks is necessary to make art. If you simply prefer to do what every one else is doing, then this path is not for you. I would suggest finding something else that makes you happy that you can be successful at. Becoming and remaining an entertainer involves risk. You must be willing to risk a bit of hunger, a few bad performances, to find new the game and make the new music. Too many risks however, and you risk alienating the tribe. Or worse, you could freak out and die.
To me, the biggest danger for an artist is to create nothing new, and to keep doing the same material over and over. That is probably the way to big money in our culture- find something that works and then spend the rest of your life making money off of it. But to me, being an artist is more about the process of discovery than it is about the money. I feel that after a performance piece has been worked out and made in to a solid piece than the repetition of it becomes more of a craft than an art. Like Fred, my heart is on the uncovering of the new. I take creative risks because that is where I find my happiness. That is my place in the tribe.
Brad Weston is a writer, juggler and risk taker from way back. For more information about him and his work check out his website at http://www.bradweston.com